This is a genuinely interesting book, but one that I have some mixed feelings about. At 518 pages plus appendices, its lucidity and quality of writingThis is a genuinely interesting book, but one that I have some mixed feelings about. At 518 pages plus appendices, its lucidity and quality of writing are uneven. Some sections are revealing and fascinating and stimulate reading. Others are sketchy and jarring, sequences of bald statements with little detail. You get the feeling that despite the length of the book, Tooze did not achieve all his ambitions for it. In places it requires real perseverance.
In a way, it is an optimistic book. Tooze shows us that conventional narrative of the end of WWI and the interbellum, the often told story of idealism losing out against the forces of nationalism and narrow-minded conservatism, is unfair. Instead many, if not almost all, players on the world stage tried to find new solutions for the new problems they were confronted with. Ultimately, they failed, but in many cases it was not because of lack of imagination or good intent. In its security, the USA is revealed to have been the most conservative player, while states such as France and Japan were not nearly as hidebound as is often assumed.
As an economic historian, Tooze devotes many pages to the financial crises that racked the post-war world. He is very critical of the USA's determination to see full payment of wartime debt, building a strong case that its insistence on getting its pound of flesh was destabilising, loaded the international financial system with vast amounts of "bad debts", and blocked actions that could have prevented the worst. That lesson continues to resonate until today.
Tooze is at his best when he introduces us to unknown events, forgotten wars, treaties and negotiations that got lost in time, ideals and political programmes that are no longer part of our culture. In this books (and this is a sad thing for a historian) he seems at his worst when he tries to make sense of it all. No clear conclusion emerges. In the mid-1930s, the world was heading for disaster again, but the reasons remain so complex as to defy full interpretation. Tooze makes a good case that the Wilsonian idealism was too narrow, and a too dubious combination of naked self-interest with self-righteous idealism, to be a real answer. He indulges in a bit of historical speculation here and there, suggesting what the alternatives could have been, but it is not very convincing.
In summary, I'd say that for anyone really interested in the period, this is so loaded with information and insights that it qualifies as a must-read, even if it can be hard work. But it certainly can't be the last word on its subject. ...more
A fascinating book about German U-Boot operations from the Flemish coast in the First World War. The author is a diver and underwater archeologist, anA fascinating book about German U-Boot operations from the Flemish coast in the First World War. The author is a diver and underwater archeologist, and the book is generously illustrated with photographs and drawings of the many wrecked submarines in the Channel and North Sea, but there is a lot more than that. Termote describes the ports and installations along the Flemish coast; gives a detailed technical history of the submarines and their equipment; describes the selection, training, and life of the crews; discusses the counter-measures and weapons developed by the British to fight the submarine threat; and gives an operational history of every boat. A rich collection of historical photographs, very well reproduced, illustrates everything.
This is an excellent, kaleidoscopic overview. At 352 pages of good quality paper, the result is a hefty book, but it is well worth the exercise! ...more
This is, as histories of wars go, a somewhat unusual book. It focuses on the Central Powers of World War I, Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Dual MonaThis is, as histories of wars go, a somewhat unusual book. It focuses on the Central Powers of World War I, Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Dual Monarchy, telling the story from the side of the losers. It is not a military history, in the sense that it devotes relatively few of its 566 pages (not including notes and bibliography) to fighting and battles, although it does some. Instead, this is mostly a political history, a social history, and economic history: The history of people's and states under the enormous strain of the Great War.
Most accounts of the Great War focus on the Western Front, and perhaps Gallipoli in addition. This book gives ample space to Eastern Front, Central Europe, and the fate of the Habsburg empire, in to failing struggle to keep German-speaking Austrians, Magyars, Ruthenes, Poles, Slovenes, Croats, Jews, Italians, and numerous other ethnic groups together in the state in which they used to live, as Watson quotes one of their politicians, in well-tempered discontent. The war ripped apart the unstable edifice, creating tensions that are still with us today. It is an almost unknown history, obscure and forgotten at least by Western Europe, but important.
Alexander Watson is sympathetic to the people but unsparing in his criticism of the political and military leadership, which was often short-sighted and at odds with the aspirations and ideals of the people they ruled. The Great War ended with the defeat on the battlefield of the armies of the Central Powers, but with that defeat also the last support holding up the contested legitimacy of the regimes fell away. If Watson is sharply critical about the mismanagement of the German leadership, he is scathing about the startling incompetence of the Austrians and Hungarians, who embraced the war in the hope that it would unify their country, but then proceeded to take steps that could only antagonise national groups and worsen tensions. Some of them were literally willing to let members of other ethnic groups starve, to protect their own economic interests.
As an analysis of the course the Great War took, why it was fought and why it ended as it did, this makes a powerful impression....more
The sinking of the Lusitania by the German U-boot U-20 in 1915 has not remained as prominent in historical memory as the loss of the Titanic. Until IThe sinking of the Lusitania by the German U-boot U-20 in 1915 has not remained as prominent in historical memory as the loss of the Titanic. Until I read this book, it was not aware of more than the bare historical fact that this ship had been sunk during the Great War, with great loss of life. And that it had been politically significant because of the presence on board of a many US citizens, at a time when their country was neutral.
This book brings the bare historical fact to life. Perhaps almost to excess, as Diana Preston overwhelms the reader with the names, personalities, and fate of numerous passengers and crew, so that as reader you feel compelled to choose a few favourites and track them amongst the throng. It does effectively convey the scale of the human loss, converting statistic to tragedy. Her account of the sinking is intertwined with endless quotes from the accounts of the survivors, embedded in almost every other sentence: It does bring memory to life.
Fortunately the book also wraps the story of the victims and survivors into the political context, not to say machinations, of the time. It explains why the tragedy happened, where responsibility and blame can be assigned, and what the consequences where. This takes a bit of preparation, and the ship does not sail from New York until chapter 7. But Preston deals effectively with conspiracy theories in her account of the investigations, the facts, and the attempts to obscure them. Though her technical explanation of why the Lusitania sank so quickly is rather hard to understand without a basic grasp of naval architecture, and perhaps wisely, has been put in an appendix. Also, Preston seems to have been denied the use of documentation and materials from Robert Ballard's investigation of the wreck, which is understandable as he also has a book to sell, but from the reader's point of view, is unfortunate.
Was the sinking by U-20 of one of the great passenger liners of the time an event that changed the course of history? When history repeated itself, and the U-30 sank the Athenia in September 1939, the German Navy kept it secret until the war was over, clearly worried about the consequences. Perhaps they were right. While the events of May 7, 1915, did not decisively alter the course of the Great War, they gave it a firm nudge.
This is a very well researched, highly detailed study of the flashpoint in the Balkans that triggered the Great War. Clark tells a complicated story wThis is a very well researched, highly detailed study of the flashpoint in the Balkans that triggered the Great War. Clark tells a complicated story with a great number of participants with a skill that renders it understandable to the reader, which is no mean feat. He is at his best recounting events at a detailed and personal level, only when he needs to mix in grand strategy his writing becomes a bit dull. But it is very informative, often surprising, sometimes very dramatic but without going beyond the facts, and an enjoyable read overall.
The strength of this book is that it goes deep into the details, the weakness is that it does not analyse them much. Clark is often judgemental about individual events and people, enough to justify the accusation of bias, but the lesson that he derives from his own story is that it was all a big muddle and Europe slipped into general war almost by accident. That probably overlooks too much of the driving forces that drove the large powers into an arms race in the years before the war.
Events in the Balkan, recounted at length by Clark over a very turbulent period, followed a recognisable pattern. The collapse of Ottoman power allowed the emergence of a number of smaller states, of which the nationalism was the fiercer for having been so long suppressed. They sought to extend themselves at the cost of each other and of the neighbouring empires, both through open war and through illicit violence. But they were not left to their own devices, as especially Austria-Hungary and Russia had strategic motives to maintain and expand their influence in the region. This lead to a complicated dance in which the large powers sought to exert control over client states, the smaller states exploited their leverage as much as they could, and bargaining chips in the Balkan became part of the horse-trading between the large powers.
What Clark describes in great detail, but does not analyse much, is that in 1914 the fragile balance of power in the region broke down. After the murder of the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne in Sarajevo, the dual monarchy decided that military action against Serbia was a necessity. Unaccountably, it simply ignored or overlooked that a major expansion of Austrian power in the Balkan, by force of arms, would upset the regional balance of power in a way that Russia would not accept, regardless of how good cause Vienna had. The only cover it sought for its actions was to ensure itself of the support of Germany, which shared the view that it smaller alliance partner needed to take military action to protect its own integrity, and had just cause to do so. Berlin decided to accept the risk, which it too underestimated.
Clark makes a good argument that the fracture in the Balkans had global implications was not that Europe was divided in two solid alliance blocks, but on the contrary that they were fluid and unstable. Politicians were permanently aware that if war would break out, it had to be for a reason that their alliance partners would find worth fighting for. This should have had a stabilising influence, but it did not, because in a situation were war was regarded as likely or inevitable, it only drove politicians to bring about exactly those conditions. A war in the Balkan ticked all the right boxes, unfortunately.
However, if this greatly detailed study of events in Eastern and Central Europe restores the events in Sarajevo, Belgrade and Vienna to the important position that they deserve, it probably also focuses a bit too much on them. Clark, already having told a complex story over 554 pages, can be excused for not including an even broader scope. But this book doesn't really address why, in 1914, the major states were armed to the teeth and ready to fight. The notion that the responsible people were "sleepwalkers" who somehow lost control and were shocked by the consequences of their own actions, doesn't really fit the facts as Clark describes them: War was foremost in many people's minds, if not as a desired outcome, then at least as an acceptable method. One can make a good case, as Clark does, that nobody really wanted a world war; it was recognised to be a disaster. But that raises a question that this book does not answer: What DID they want enough to fight for?
Clark characterises the outbreak of the Great War as a tragedy but not a crime, because nobody wanted a large war. That is as may be. But Austria-Hungary and its German ally were definitely embracing the concept of a small war. And even if the grievances of Austria against Serbia was justified and it did, as Clark states, have legitimate interests to defend, the fact remains that it is strategic folly to hope for a small, short, or cheap war. Wars just never are, and escalation is predictable especially if it is the best hope for the other side.
This is a great book of naval history, combining the great sweep of tragic historic events with careful analysis of the people who ultimately carriedThis is a great book of naval history, combining the great sweep of tragic historic events with careful analysis of the people who ultimately carried the responsibility for initiating them, and with some but not overwhelming technical detail.
The most important chapters of this book are devoted to the battle of Gallipoli, how the operation was conceived, how it failed, and what the strategic and personal consequences are. It is as much an account of (bad) decision making as of warfare, and might as well be required reading for managers as well as for historians. The author is, on the whole, surprisingly positive about it.
The qualities that professor Marder sought in an effective leader are, paraphrasing, the ability to inspire others, a fertile intelligence, and the ability and willingness to use the brainpower of others. Against these standards, he measures the personalities of this period carefully but swiftly. For many pages of this book, Winston Churchill as First Lord and Admiral Fisher as First Sea Lord were the power duo at the Admiralty, and even a hundred years later these characters continue to fascinate.
This work is perhaps, a bit dated, for Marder was not allowed to make full use of the archives at his disposal, as he was writing close enough to the time of events that they were still controversial. But it retains its value.
A fascinating account of the last months of WWI, which blends together to experiences of the men in the front lines, the evolution of strategy, tactic A fascinating account of the last months of WWI, which blends together to experiences of the men in the front lines, the evolution of strategy, tactics and technology, and the drama of high command and politics in one coherent and engaging history.
This book achieves its goal of changing our perception of how the war on the Western Front was fought: Yes, the extremely bloody stalemate of trench warfare that dominates the historical memory did characterise most of it. But it was not the entire story. There was change in how battles were fought, change that resulted to return to a war of movement in 1918, and finally into a victory of the Entente (and associated) powers.
This book has one major weakness: It focuses heavily on the German, British and American experience, with little attention for the French. That the French army had been bled white by 1918, and had to limit itself to cautious operations of a modest scale, is probably insuffient execuse for that. But it is understandable that the author had to make choices.
Whether his final conclusion, that it would have been better if the allied powers had continued the war in 1919 and achieved the total defeat of Germany, is justified is something else. Yes, changing history in such a dramatic manner, at the cost of massive casualties and destruction, would certainly prevented WWII as we know it. But who knows what would have happened instead?
This book has the hallmarks of an official history: It frequently refers to official documents and meeting minutes, elaborates on the managerial cultuThis book has the hallmarks of an official history: It frequently refers to official documents and meeting minutes, elaborates on the managerial culture of MI5, and contains organizational diagrams as an appendix. It also contains accounts of the most important counter-espionage and counter-terrorism cases in the history of MI5, and a large number of interesting background facts. Nevertheless, readers who are only looking for a gripping espionage story may be bored by the story of MI5 as an institution. Strange as it is, considering that MI5 had no legal basis for much of its existence, and the government stubbornly (but with very little credibility) refused to acknowledge that existence.
But the political story also deserves to be told. The relationship between MI5 and its own government is an interesting topic in itself, as governments were over-eager to use the secret service against their political opponents, or worried that it was acting against them. Christopher Andrew argues that MI5 generally stayed within the boundaries of constitutional propriety, despite the pressure occasionally exerted on it.
The author acknowledged in an interview that there were deletions for security reasons, and especially in the later chapters there were stories he was not allowed to tell for reasons he personally disagreed with. Nevertheless it is an independent account, sympathetic to its subject, but not uncritical. ...more
An interesting but very dry history of the Secret Intelligence Service. The problem may be that Jeffery has fallen for the modern management illusionAn interesting but very dry history of the Secret Intelligence Service. The problem may be that Jeffery has fallen for the modern management illusion that the fate of an organization is decided by its organogram and the personality at its head. But while it is interesting to learn something more about the three men who used the designation 'C' in the period described (1909-1949) there is a lot more to a secret intelligence organization than that. Jeffery gives us too little insight in the culture of MI6, the personalities if the other people who worked for it, and the actual work that they did.
There are some little gems in the text, and some fascinating new stories, for example about the attempts of MI6 to sink or sabotage the ships that brought Jewish refugees to Palestine in the late 1940s. But at times Jeffery gives the impression that other people have told all the interesting stories about MI6 and he comes to fill in the grey background of bureaucratic in-fighting in Whitehall. For a historian with access to previously unopened archives, that is a shame.
Maybe because this intended to be an official history, he tries to be extensive in geographical coverage, instead of giving any information in depth. Sweeping global overviews give us a few names, a bit of local political background, and perhaps a few sentences of biography, before people are allowed to sink in obscurity again: So often you feel that there is a fascinating story there, perhaps several, that is not being told.
The book is readable but it took me a long time to get through this. And I disliked the typesetting, especially the way in which an 'e' collides with a preceding 'r'. A tiny detail but it looks so ugly that it is disruptive....more